No. 20: Bar Isabel
Now entering its seventh year (that’s approximately 143 in restaurant years), Grant van Gameren’s tribute to the great, old-school tavernas of Barcelona is as rambunctious and delicious as ever.
The room’s art nouveau design lends to the sense of timelessness, and diners seem pleased to give themselves up to the fantasy. Happy are those content to perch at the bar with an aperitivo—Isabel’s cocktail program remains one of the city’s most accomplished—along with a bowl of warm Marcona almonds, a round of shishito roulette and a few thin slices of jamón ibérico. For the showstoppers—whole grilled octopus, sobrasada and foie gras, veal sweetbreads with raw tuna—diners can settle into a more expansive table farther back in the dining room.
The kitchen does a fine job on staples like patatas bravas, boquerones and jamón croquetas. From clams and oysters to snow crab and side stripe shrimp, the seafood here is treated with appropriate respect. Anything plated with the Spanish blood sausage morcilla (lately, chickpeas and shrimp) is to be recommended. In true Basque style, the restaurant serves dinner until midnight every day of the week and until 2 a.m. on weekends. The wine list skews Spanish and exults in lesser-known varietals, but take your server’s suggestion to explore the sherry carte as well.